History to be made, viewers are required

In the next three weeks, Lance Armstrong will, barring accidents, cycle more than 2000 miles at an average speed of 35 mph, race over some of the highest mountain passes in Europe and resume his annual public relations war with the unforgiving French public. If successful, Armstrong will, by winning his fifth Tour de France, join the immortals of his sport before millions watching around the world and, in the United States, the viewers of the cable channel Outdoor Life Network.

Yup, sandwiched between RV Today and America’s Outdoor Journal, those U.S. viewers that receive OLN will be able to watch, arguably, the biggest annual sporting event, the self-styled “Greatest free show on Earth.” Thankfully, Armstrong doesn’t have to cycle around France with a wooden duck on his head to attract the interest of the if-it-moves-shoot-it-or-catch-it crowd who favor OLN.

Adding insult to injury, cable company Comcast, one of Armstrong’s sponsors does not even carry OLN.

So, much kudos to OLN for showing Le Grande Boucle, and, laudably, OLN has risked upsetting their gun-toting viewers by drastically amending their normal schedule to provide live coverage of the Tour’s centenary edition. But how many people are going to watch OLN or have even heard of the channel? If ESPN can find room for rodeo and Fitness America Swimsuit Calendar, surely it can’t be beyond them to bid for the rights to cover one of the greatest sporting events in the world. The fact that they are owned by Disney doesn’t excuse ESPN covering Mickey Mouse sports at the expense of events like the Tour de France.

Such indifference would be understandable if, as in the past, the event was dominated solely by Europeans, but since 1999, the Tour has been the exclusive property of one of the greatest stories in sport, and an American story at that.

Armstrong’s comeback from the depths of testicular cancer to reach the pinnacle of his sport has been well documented. In fact, so great has been his success that even mainstream American sports media such as Sports Illustrated, among others, have acknowledged the achievements of the Texan cyclist, awarding him Sportsmen of the Year in 2002 after Armstrong destroyed all his opposition to clinch his fourth Tour. This year, Armstrong is aiming to join Jacque Anquetil, Eddy Mercyx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, the exclusive band of cyclists with five Tour De France victories to their names. Only the second American to ever win the Tour, Armstrong surely deserves a greater stage in his own country than OLN can deliver.

He may have successfully battled cancer, the mountains and the greatest cyclists in the world, but apathy for his sport may prove to be the one foe beyond him.